Woodbery takes over starting role with Brantley gone


Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News Harry Woodbery throws a screen pass to running back Jaelin Benefield. Eastern lost 40-29 to Tennessee Tech Sept. 28 at O’Brien Field in the Panthers’ OVC opener.

JJ Bullock, Editor-in-Chief

It began in April of 2018.

Two transfer quarterbacks, one from the FBS level, one from a junior college, showed off their skills in a team scrimmage and thus set forth a quarterback battle that would wage over the course of the next 17 months.

The participants in the battle: Tulane transfer Johnathan Brantley and Navarro Junior College transfer Harry Woodbery. Those two would share a starting role as quarterback for the entirety of the 2018 season and also shared it through the first four games of the 2019 season.

Their competition for the starting job was tit-for-tat.

Neither was ever able to separate himself from the other. In their time at Eastern, Brantley played 14 games, was 235-of-383 passing for 2,279 yards, 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. Woodbery appeared in 16 games, was 179-of-331 passing for 1,907 yards, 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Woodbery and Brantley’s competition seemed to have no end in sight.

Then, suddenly, it was over.

Brantley told his coaches and teammates after week four that he would be leaving the program.

In one swift decision, Eastern’s 17-month quarterback battle, one that seemed like it would never reach a conclusion, got one.

And just like that, Woodbery stood alone. Gone was his co-pilot, gone the counterpart that spent so much time in quarterback rooms and on the sideline with him, arrived is the days of a one-quarterback system at Eastern with Woodbery in charge.

Brantley is leaving a hole on the team, not just from a football perspective, but also from a teammate standpoint in the locker room. But the time to miss him has passed, and Eastern must continue its schedule, full speed ahead.

“You definitely miss (Brantley) from a personal perspective,” Woodbery said. “Just like friendship wise and we had a couple of inside jokes in the meeting room and stuff like that. But you just have to come out and focus on what’s important, which is getting one day better with the team. That has been my mindset this week.”

Eastern has already gotten to see Woodbery without Brantley, as he had to start against Tennessee Tech Sept. 28 just days after finding out Brantley was leaving.

Woodbery responded throwing a school record 68 passes, completing 34 of them for 334 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

The Panthers lost 40-29, but the team still got to see its offense put up a season high in points and yards with Woodbery as the lone quarterback.

Woodbery said after the game that he has a lot of respect for Brantley and that he helped make him a better quarterback.

“I have played with him for a year and a half, we both came in here together obviously, he has made me a much better player in just having to go to work and compete every single day,” Woodbery said. “Iron sharpens iron. But it feels good a little bit to feel like you have got a little more control, a little more freedom, a little more support. But he was a great player and I enjoyed my time with him for sure.”

Woodbery also said that having Brantley no longer around changes his preparation in no way.

But it has benefited Woodbery in the sense that now he is the lone person practicing with the first string at practice. For Woodbery this means more reps and more time to sync with the No. 1 receivers.

“It is nice to be getting the one reps right now and kind of have more reps going into each game. When (Brantley) was here it was more shared, just because they knew two guys were going to be playing so it was a lot of splitting reps, so from that aspect it is nice,” Woodbery said. “But there is never a complacent moment, you can’t act like you are the defined starter and I can go out there and do whatever I want and no matter what I am going to be starting. You kind of treat it like the job is open every single day and come attack practice like that.”

Woodbery is not the type to get worked up over a teammate, even another quarterback, leaving the team. In fact, head coach Adam Cushing said that Woodbery’s “even-keeled” demeanor is one of his best qualities.

“He has certainly got some fire and passion to him but part of the reason he is successful is that his highs don’t take him too high and his lows don’t take him too low,” Cushing said. “So, I don’t think there has really been a difference, he knows what he has got to do, he always, the two of them together, he’s always competing.”

Cushing said he addressed his team about Brantley’s departure as soon as he knew, taking two minutes to tell the team that they wish him the best, but now it was time to move forward with the guys remaining.

And move on the Panthers have, with Woodbery steering the ship.

What started 17 months ago as a battle between two transfer quarterbacks new to the team and new to the campus finally has its end; with the transfer from Navarro Junior College standing as Eastern’s starting quarterback.

Brantley did not respond to a request for comment by time of publication.

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]